You want Shutterstock quality photos, but don’t want to pay to use them for your romance or erotica novel cover. As a self-published author, money may be tight or you may be new to the game and not sure if you want to invest money in the venture yet. Making your own book covers and promotional material will save you money and can be a lot of fun to design yourself. With the right images, you can make a professional looking cover quite easily. Luckily there are options out there for high-quality photos, but you have to do a bit of digging to find free photos that match your genre.
The first thing to do is look at a collection of covers in your genre on Amazon or Google. For romance books, a historical romance will have a very different cover than a contemporary romance. There are many subgenres within erotica as well that have a certain “look” to them, whether its BDSM or tentacle monsters (yes, that’s a thing). You don’t want to copy anyone else’s book cover of course, but you do want to see what sells well and what readers expect to see when they’re searching for books in your genre.
Common Romance Covers
There are so many romance covers that go beyond the traditional image of the woman desperately clutching the buff, shirtless hero, although this cover is still popular, especially for historical romance. Some romance covers may only feature a male figure, who may be naked from the waist up, or fully clothed in a dapper suit (especially for billionaire series). Some covers feature only a female character, but that is less common. Contemporary romance may feature fun, colorful graphics of martini glasses or wedding rings instead of people.
Common Erotica Covers
Erotica covers may not be very different from a lot of romance covers because of guidelines imposed by Amazon. If a cover is too sexual, it may be rejected completely or labeled “Adult” and omitted from searches. For erotica, shirtless and impeccably dressed men are very popular. Couples featured are racier than a standard romance: the woman may be in lingerie or the couple is posed more provocatively.
Six Sites with Free, Royalty-Free Images
I’ve evaluated several websites that offer royalty-free (meaning you don’t have to give attribution to the photographer if you don’t want to), totally free photos and here are my top six sites for high-res images and graphics.
Pixabay is great for finding pictures of men and women separately. It also has a selection of couples photos, but they are more geared toward romance. There’s a lack of highly sensual photos of couples that would feature on an erotica cover and there are very few lgtb+ couple photographs if you’re writing a M/M or F/F coupling.
Pexels is another great site for royalty free images. It has a variety of photos that would work perfectly for a romance or erotica cover. This site is a little better for gay and lesbian couplings than Pixabay.
PicJumbo is another good site for free images. They have less images than Pixabay or Pexels, but still a nice collection of high-quality photographs and it’s less well-known than these sites (so less likely another author will use the same image as you). There is a Pro version you can purchase if you want more options. Many photos have an orange tab that says “more images like this.” If you click on it, there are more options, called collections, but these are only available with PicJumbo Pro. Unfortunately, there are no lgtb+ images available on this site.
Unsplash has plenty of images that would work well for romance or erotica covers. There is a selection of gay and lesbian couples as well, but they aren’t particularly sensual and probably wouldn’t work for erotica covers.
Burst has great high-resolution images. It lacks photos of sexy men and women, but has a nice selection of images associated with romance like lingerie, flowers, and candles. It also has backgrounds like cityscapes and ocean settings that can be used on both romance and erotica novel covers.
Pikwizard is another good site for romantic images that would work well on a cover. There are many pictures of couples that, with a little editing to remove the background, could make a solid cover. When you’re searching for photos, some of them will take you to Adobe Stock or Shutterfly, but there is a good selection on the site for free. When you enter a search term, click on the “Filter” button and choose “Exclude editorial” to make sure that your search results only include images with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, meaning they are free for commercial use and attribution free.
Search Terms to Use to Find Images
There are some general search terms and keywords that will give you good images for most romance and erotica novels.
sex – sexy – sensual – couple – romance – erotic – erotica
naked – abs – athletic – athlete – body builder – muscles – gym
model – beauty – fashion
bed – bath – wet
flowers – candle – candlelight – romantic background
Depending on your subgenre, you can narrow your search terms to fit with what your book is specifically about and/or the location where the action takes place.
bdsm – bondage – fetish
historical – queen – king – royalty
lesbian couple – gay couple – lgtb